Posts Tagged ‘Amy Lynch-Biniek’

For those of you who don’t know, in the spring of 2011 I launched a progressive media site called Raging Chicken Press. While I described the site as a “side project,” it is really more of a place where my teaching and scholarship meet in practice.  For example, this semester I am teaching ENG 316 Rhetoric, Democracy, Advocacy and next semester I will be teaching a Special Topics class ENG 390 Activists Writing Media: Composing Democratic Futures. I’ve published on activist rhetoric in  Democracies to Come – co-authored with Rachel Riedner of the George Washington University, as well as articles on “Viral Advocacy” in Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service-Learning and rhetorics of labor advocacy in Seth Kahn and JongHwa Lee’s fantastic collection, Activism and Rhetoric. I’ve always had the need to do more than teach and write about rhetoric. I’ve found it critical to also be a practitioner. In fact, I would argue, my teaching, scholarship, and practice are all intimately related and in dialogue. Raging Chicken Press has been my latest site of practice and it has taken off faster than I could have imagined.

Last week I launched a new series called “Smashing Apples: Shock Doctrine for Public Education.” The series focuses on the attacks upon public education in PA and across the region and nation. I wanted to let readers of the XChange know for a couple of reasons. First, I am always looking for new writers, photographers, videographers, cartoonists, and podcasters interested in contributing to the site. Given APSCUF’s continuing contract fight, I thought there might be some of you out there who have got some things to say, and who are looking for a place to say it. While our APSCUF-KU efforts are currently focused on letters to editors and to the Board of Governors and Chancellor, Raging Chicken Press might give you a space to contribute in different ways.

Second, I wanted to let you know of some of the articles we have recently published in which you may be interested. Here you go:

Hope you find some these articles compelling and if you’re mad as hell and can’t take it any more, consider submitting to the Raging Chicken



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Inside Higher Ed‘s Scott Jaschik has an alarming story today, “The Shirley Sherrods of Academe?” Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbartis at it again, this time distorting videos in the classes of two teachers of labor history at the University of Missouri.  Breitbartis edited video posted to the course’s online site (accessed without permission) so that it seems as if the instructors were advocating violence.  What’s most frustrating is despite that fact that administration cleared the faculty of any wrong doing after reviewing the complete videos, one of the two instructors was still fired–the adjunct instructor. A sacrificial lamb to the conservative blogosphere’s imagined influence on funding.

Particularly disturbing is that this may only just be the beginning. Jaschik reports:

“Breitbart may be on the lookout for other academics. Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox last week, he said that ‘we’re going to take on education next, and go after the teachers and union organizers.’

While I like to push students to think critically and encourage in-class discussion of  controversial topics, I think we all, sadly, are now in the position of considering how our pedagogies may be used against us. I, for one, won’t be filming a class anytime soon.

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As our little experiment in virtual solidarity gets up and running, the spirit of Wisconsin is spreading to Ohio and Indiana — with additional mass protests and occupations of State Capitols.  The XChange will continue the Virtual Rally in Support of Wisconsin (Ohio & Indiana, too!) workers as long and the people of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states are standing up and saying, “Enough!”

So, keep sending in your pics and participate in our small act of virtual solidarity.  Check out our rally site to see who’s participating so far.  Thanks for all of you who participated in Day One of this on-going Rally.  Click the image to be taken to the Rally Gallery.

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Readers of the XChange won’t be surprised if I were to say that Kutztown University suffers from a lack vision.  The administration has aggressively retrenched faculty members and programs with a logic that escapes nearly everyone who cares to pay attention.  What’s KU’s response to the Commonwealth’s need for nurses?  Cut the nursing program of course!  How does KU ensure that our strong tradition of educating the next generation of teachers is further strengthened to meet the demands of the 20th Century?  Why, you cut the Early Learning Center — a signature Lab School that has given KU Early Education graduates a distinct advantage over their counterparts from other institutions!  I could go on and on (as you know).

Serious SquirrelLast week’s APSCUF-KU Representative Council meeting served to take KU’s squirrel logic to new heights (or lows — depending on where you sit, I guess).  XChange writer, Amy Lynch-Biniek addressed some of what we heard at Rep Council in her recent post, “Indicators of Good Business.”  Amy concluded her discussion of PASSHE’s new performance indicators — especially that one called “faculty productivity,” which means the # of students per faculty member — as follows:

I want knowing my students’ names to be a performance indicator. I want working in material circumstances that facilitate best practices to be a performance indicator. I want a challenging curriculum to be a performance indicator.

But that’s not good business.

Amy is, of course, dead on in her call for quality teaching and best practices.  And yet, what struck me as even more bizarre and infuriating was the fact that Kutztown doesn’t even do “good business” right.  If we were to follow the logic of the performance indicators — let’s take the “transitional” ones for fall 2011 for the moment — “faculty productivity,” as Amy points out, is one of the key indicators (the order of the items does not indicate priority as far as I know).  However, on that very same slide we also see “Second-Year Persistence” (that is, do first year students come back) and “Graduation Rates.”  In other words, while PASSHE seems keen on continuing its recent push to stuff more students into each class, the System also seems to place some significance on retention.  One could say (that “one” wouldn’t be me) that PASSHE recognizes — at least formally — that as you push to increase class size (faculty productitivity) there is the potential that such a move will have an adverse impact on student retention.  Because of this, PASSHE includes TWO performance indicators related to retention in order to ensure that PASSHE does not attract an increasing number of students on the one hand, only to have them leave after a couple of years (carrying with them a nice little bag of debt).  In a rational world, this make sense.  You want to dissuade university administrations from treating students like cash cows in order to secure much coveted performance funds.  So, in that world, it’s in the interest of a university President and his/her administration to BOTH increase the number of students in each class while investing in retention strategies and programs to prevent students from leaving once they realize their college experience is dominated by 200 seat auditoriums, not the one-on-one attention that they were promised.

Kutztown’s commitment to increasing class size to meet “faculty productivity” benchmarks is clear: one only need look to the arrival of the Academic Forum and the proposed North Campus Academic Building (aka New Lytle), to see how increasing class size is being written into our built environment. The Kutztown administration’s corresponding commitment to investing in rention strategies is just plain squirrely.

For example, one might think that given PASSHE’s performance indicators, KU might pay attention to the published literature which recommends strategies such as orientation, college transition courses, enrollment managment programs, faculty and peer mentoring, and intervention programs.  Such programs would be all the more important since KU expanded to serve a more diverse student body.  Best practices should guide KU’s plans.  A decent plan?  Well, this is not just a decent plan, but a paraphrase from a report, “Kutztown University Early Intervention Initiatives,” authored by Dr. Carole Wells (now Vice Provost, then Professor of Psychology) as the Chair of the KU Senate Enrollment Management Committee.  The report was written April, 2004 and was part of the last Middle-States report. The report focuses on interviews conducted with six units, highlighting their retention efforts: ACT 101, Advisement Center, Athletics Department, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Student Support Services Program, and Services to Students with Disabilities Office.  While both Athletics and the College of VPA reported retention efforts, they are not programs designed for retention purposes.  Of the remaining four, the administration has cut two of them this past year: ACT 101 and the Advising Center.  SSSP was in danger of being cut had they not been able to secure full grant funding.

Rob Peter to pay Paul?  I guess?

So, just to review. KU commits to rapidly expanding class size, not for any academically defensible reason, but because the administration wants to increase its share of PASSHE’s performance funding.  Given that larger classes can dramatically impact student retention, PASSHE (ostensibly) offsets the “faculty productivity” indicator with two other indicators focusing on retrenchment.  Kutztown University decides to continue to increase class size, building more large classrooms, while eliminiating programs designed to retain students.  Make sense?

One might ask about the effectiveness of these programs.  I’ll let you judge for yourself about the effectiveness of ACT 101…check out one of sister institutions ACT 101 site or contact one of the more than 70 ACT 101 programs at colleges and universities across the state. And what of the Advising Center?  The “Kutztown Uniersity Early Intervention Initiatives” report suggests a long-term goal of the university is to “develop a professional advising center” (8).  One might object that KU already had a professional Advising Center.  But, the administration could retort, “we want one based upon ‘best practices’ as outlined in the ‘published literature’.”  Fair point.

The KU Administration must have eagerly awaited the publication of The Handbook of Career Advising in 2009 by the National Academic Advising Association.  Here, administrators committed to best practices and facing concerns about the budget could find the best practices they were seeking. And there it was: “Appendix A: Exemplary Practices: Integrated Academic and Career Advising Centers.”  And, they must have been all the more pleased to find on page 326 Kutztown University’s Advising Center!!!  That’s right.  Without lifting a finger, the KU administration had acheived one of the goals laid out in the 2004 report!  Not only that, having the KU Advising Center singled out by the National Academic Advising Association would help build a case for those coveted perfomance funds — especially as a KU “budget crisis” loomed.  So, the KU administration made the only choice that made any sense.

They eliminated the Advising Center. (click here to see an excerpt from the Handbook of Carrer Advising, including pages signed by all the books authors…a copy of which was provide to President Cevallos when the book was published).

It’s one thing to have to suck it up and work together in difficult circumstances.  What does one do with this?

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It’s cold and rainy.  A sure sign that fall is well on its way to Eastern PA.

After spending the morning reading and writing, I headed over to the Graduate Center for a meeting with the Director of the Office of Assessment, Gil Clary.  I was meeting in my capacity as the coordinator of composition in the English Department and I was joined by fellow XChange writer, compositionist,  and Director of the University Writing Center, Amy Lynch-Biniek; we were there to talk about assessing first-year composition courses as well as the writing intensive component of the new general education model.

As assessment conversations go, I thought this was a pretty good one.  My experience has been that most conversations about assessment are never easy. Most faculty I know are not resistant to “assessing” their programs, courses, and curricula in principle.  However, for the past couple of decades, assessment has been deployed in a reductionist fashion that has put pressure on educators at all levels to reduce education to numbers you can score on a standardized test.  While standardized tests–like those mandated by No Child Left Behind–provide administrators and policy folks with measurable data to track, those tests do not necessarily tell us about the quality of education.  Like the SAT, those tests only tell us how well students are learning what they will be tested on.

The conversation we had with our KU Director of Assessment today was not like that.  Today we talked a lot about writing and the kind of outcomes we want of our students.  We discussed some of the tricky aspects of assessing a “program” that is not taught primarily by people trained in the field associated with the teaching of college composition: composition and rhetoric.  We talked about what it would look like to assess writing at the university level in a comprehensive and sound manner.  Like I said, it was a good conversation.

But what prompted me to write was not the “goodness” of that conversation.  What prompted me to write was the creeping exhaustion I began to feel toward the end of our conversation and in my rain-soaked walk back to my office.  Amy and I both made it clear that to do assessment effectively and for it to mean anything of significance, requires work.  More to the point: people to do the work.  If KU’s current trend holds, however, there will be no resources available to fund this work.  Rather, faculty and staff will be asked to pile the work of assessment on top of their already overloaded schedules.  No level of threat from Middle States (our accreditation body) will take away the basic fact that in order to do assessment effectively, you need people who have the time and energy to do it.  If you demand more work from people while cutting the resources necessary to do that work effectively, something’s gotta give.

As we heard all last year as the new general education model was being developed and debated, Middle States was insistent that Kutztown implement a new general education model.  Not doing so would mean that the university could be placed on warning like two of our sister institutions, Cheyney and Lock Haven.  So, we did it.  We have a new general education model which will be implemented in fall 2011.  But Middle States wanted more than just a new model.  It wanted the university to develop a means to assess general education and all university programs.  The very existence of Kutztown University’s Office of Assessment was a response to Middle States.  The General Education Task Force did its job and there is a model of general education assessment moving through our governance structure.  What remains to be seen is whether or not the university is actually going put resources behind this Middle States mandated effort.  All current indications seem to suggest that rather than doing so, faculty and staff will be asked to “do more with less.”

Something’s got to give.

Kutztown is a great place to work in many, many ways.  First and foremost, I have had the pleasure of working with incredible and hard-working students.  Kutztown students are the gem of this university and when I think of them, I can think of no place I’d rather be.  Second, I have some of the best colleagues I could ask for.  In my home department, English, I have been part of reconstructing a department from one that was at war with itself to one that stands, as I often find myself saying, as the best department I have ever worked in.  Third, we are unionized.  I have relied upon our contract and my rights under a CBA as a buffer against so much of the pettiness that rears its head in academia from time to time.  In fact, as I write this I realize that these are the three reasons I chose to come to KU in the first place.

At this point, though, I am concerned that so much of what we’ve worked for…so much of the promise of this place…is going to be rolled back under the administration’s budget axe.  “Doing more with less” may be a catchy little jingle that resonates with sectors of the electorate and legislature, but it has very real consequences on people’s lives.  It has very real consequences for the quality of education we can provide as a public university.

So, yes, this might just be cold, grey skies speaking.  I hope so.  Another year of exhaustion is not what the doctor ordered.

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As APSCUF enters into a contract negotiation year, this report recently issued from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) should be mandatory reading.  The report discusses the all-but-collapse of the tenure system, the out-of-control rise in contingent faculty, and ways to stabilize higher education.  APSCUF’s contract makes the report–specifically Article 11 Sec. G and H, which address the conversion of temporary faculty or temporary faculty lines.  [Thanks to Bob Derstine for sending this link my way.]

To see more on Article 11 Sec. G. and H. check out an interview I did for Academe Online.

Interview by Marc Bousquet with Kevin Mahoney

I did that interview with Marc following last year’s APSCUF/PSEA Conference on Labor in Higher Education.  That gives me an opportunity to plug (once again) the rapidly approaching 2nd Annual APSCUF/PSEA Conference on Labor in Higher Education.  And for you observant observers out there…you are correct.  Both of your XChange writers…Amy Lynch-Biniek and Kevin Mahoney are in the picture to the left.  It was taken during Marc Bousquet’s Key note address at last year’s conference.

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I am pleased to welcome Amy Lynch-Biniek aboard as a writer for the XChange and I hope that all of you will welcome her aboard as well.  I’ll let Amy introduce herself to all of you in the manner that she sees fit and not try to rain too many preemptive praises down upon her.

When I founded the XChange exactly one year ago (how about that…exactly one year ago today), I had envisioned the blog as a starting point…always hoping that it would move beyond my singular voice.  I had hoped that the XChange could become more of a “chorus” than a solo perfomance…that it might, in time, evolve into a critical arena for discussion of higher education labor with a particular focus on APSCUF and the PASSHE system.  I am glad to take a step in that direction.

So, you will be hearing from Amy shortly…stay tuned!

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